Man claims $150,000 scam by psychic after sex change

Man claims $150,000 scam by psychic after sex change
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Drakar Druella was struggling with wrenching emotional problems last October when he walked into the Hawthorne Psychic Shop in southeast Portland for a palm reading and met Cathy Stevens.

Over the next seven weeks he would give the psychic $150,000 in cash and gifts so she could rid him of his "negative energy" and heal him. Druella says the 39-year-old woman was so convincing, he didn't realize he was being scammed until he heard Stevens launch into the same story with another client.

"That's when it all went 'click, click, click,'" said Druella, 42, who called police in November and is now filing for personal bankruptcy. "The people she was taking advantage of were so vulnerable and in so much emotional pain."

Portland police in January raided both the psychic shop and Stevens' residence on Northeast Weidler Street, rented from former Police Chief Ron Still to investigators' surprise. Police arrested Stevens on aggravated theft allegations. The charges were dropped, pending more investigation.

Since then, Detective Andy Madden has identified three other victims, and is continuing to investigate what appears to be a fraud conspiracy, deputy City Attorney Ellen Osoinach said in Multnomah County Circuit Court this week.

Stevens' attorney, John W. Neidig, says his client didn't prey on anyone, and argues that Druella was her business partner who was investing in their spiritual operation. Neidig, who successfully represented Clackamas County faith-healing parent Raylene Worthington, says Stevens is the victim of religious persecution.

"It's certainly evident from the search warrant affidavit that police hold religious animus against my client and her heritage," said Neidig, pointing out that a heading in the police affidavit reads: Gypsies and Fortune Telling Fraud.

He called the affidavit shocking, for "characterizing a certain group of people as being swindlers and fraudulent."

"Cathy has nothing more than the overwhelming desire to help people, and she's pretty talented at it."

Druella, who was struggling with his gender identity after undergoing a sex change, said Stevens told him she sensed his "twin-flame energy," and used Catholic symbolism that resonated with Druella, who was raised Catholic. She connected with him in a way that other spiritual teachers had not.

According to the police search warrant affidavit and an interview with Druella, he first paid Stevens $265 for advice on Oct. 8. She told him he had "negative energy" and a demon attached to him, and she could help him get rid of it.

But in order to do so, she said she'd need $22,000 to buy a "tabernacle" and she'd conduct an exorcism. She instructed him not to say anything to others and also asked him to turn over to her his personal journals.

Druella, who has an associate's degree from Portland Community College and works as a bookkeeper and office manager for a management consulting firm in downtown Portland, agreed.

He said Stevens then told him she needed a vehicle to take her to a remote mountainous area to help transport his negative energy away. On Oct. 11, they both went to Vic Alfonso dealership, where he got a loan and bought an H-3T Hummer in his name for $45,940. He says he gave Stevens the Hummer so she could continue to do spiritual work on his behalf.

Druella said he grew to view Stevens like a "mom" and believed she was "saving " him from death. On one occasion, he went to Lloyd Center with Stevens, and bought four Rolex watches , totaling $37,840. Stevens told him she needed a special component in the watches, also to use toward his healing, he said.

"I've never seen anybody as convincing as her. She could cry on will. Her display of emotion and authenticity. She becomes what you want and need her to be," Druella said.

Druella said he put down payments on furniture, and a washer and dryer for the Northeast Weidler site, thinking it was going to be a spiritual retreat center where he'd help her out.

Stevens' lawyer says Druella was more involved than he's letting on. As a spiritualist, Druella and Stevens respected each other's talents, and said the Hummer and tabernacle were Druella's ideas. Neidig claims Druella had his own client's list, and argued that Stevens was just safekeeping the Rolex watches that police found in her home.

This week, Neidig was in Multnomah County Circuit Court, urging a judge to order the city to return financial records and other property - including Stevens' Tarot cards and Lucky Dust. Neidig says he's been trying for months to get Stevens business records back so she can file her taxes.

The deputy city attorney, representing the police bureau, said among the items seized was paperwork that potentially involves a civil lawsuit in Orange County against a gypsy clan involved in a similar scheme. The judge gave police two more months to investigate.

Her attorney wouldn't say where Stevens is living now. Stevens and her fiance moved out of the Northeast Weidler Street home this spring, and haven't been seen at the Hawthorne shop since the police raid. A pile of mail has gathered by the front door of the shop, where the windows still advertise in large white letters, "Love Counselor," "Psychic Advisor," "Palm Reader" and "Tarot Reader."

San Francisco fraud investigator Greg Ovanessian, who teaches nationally about fortune-telling frauds, transient criminals and the gypsy culture, said the question often is raised: "How can someone be so stupid to give this much money for some ritual? It's easier for people to say when they don't have a real understanding of the situation most of these clients, or victims, are in," he said.

"They're essentially in a very vulnerable state and are susceptible to suggestion and trickery. People want to believe that things are going to get better. That doesn't mean they deserve to be ripped off."

Madden and Druella suspect that other victims may be too humiliated to come forward. "To others, I'd say , please speak up. Don't be ashamed," Druella said. "Though I'm embarrassed and humiliated, this is about someone who is a predator, who preys upon the vulnerable."